How to talk to someone who is feeling suicidal

Everyone of us will be affected, or know someone who’s been affected by suicide. Yet, it’s not something we commonly talk about. There is a lot of stigma, misunderstanding and fear surrounding suicide and suicidal feelings. It’s scary to imagine how someone might feel if they don’t want to live anymore and it’s scary to think that we could also feel like that. This is understandable. If you don’t know what to say or do, you may worry about making things worse or about not being able to help. This of course makes it even more difficult for someone to reach out when they need to. So, I wanted to gather some helpful do’s and don’t’s so that everyone can feel less scared approaching the subject of suicide.

Please note that this article does not aim to teach suicide intervention techniques, it is only meant to be a starting point to opening up conversations. If you would like to learn more about applied suicide intervention, I recommend attending ASIST training.

1 Ask

Do Ask directly, in no uncertain terms. If you are worried about someone or suspect they are having suicidal thoughts, ask them straight out: ‘Are you thinking about suicide?’ If they are not, it may feel a little bit awkward but they will probably still appreciate that you bothered to ask.

Don’t be vague or confusing. Using clear language helps connect the person to their experience and shows them that you are not afraid to talk about it. When a person is feeling suicidal they are often scared of their own experience so being able to name it can help them feel ok to talk.

2 Listen

Do listen to what the person is saying and empathise with their experience. Allow them time to express their feelings and be willing to understand what it might be like for them.

Don’t try to offer solutions or convince them they have so much to live for. While comments like this are well intended they can make the person feel like they are not being heard or understood and add feelings of guilt or shame to their already desperate state. As much as you want to, you can’t make it all better for them. What you CAN do is show them that they’re not alone.

3 Offer

Do offer to support the person get help. Ask them if you can help them make an appointment with their GP or a counsellor. Getting professional help can feel like a massive hurdle so this kind of support can be invaluable.

Don’t offer to become the main source of support. Your aim is to support the person to access professional help. You can still offer support around this, if you feel able.

Make sure you get support for yourself as well. Dealing with suicidal feelings – whether they’re your own or someone else’s – is traumatic and you may need a safe space to process your feelings and experiences around it.

Where to get help:

  • If you are worried about someone’s immediate safety call the emergency services at 999
  • If you are supporting someone (or yourself) to access long term support your GP is your first point of call
  • To talk about anything that is upsetting you, you can contact Samaritans 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. You can call 116 123 (free from any phone), email jo@samaritans.org or visit some branches in person.
  • If you’re experiencing a mental health problem or supporting someone else, you can call SANEline on 0300 304 7000 (4.30pm–10.30pm every day).
  • If you’re under 25, you can call The Mix on 0808 808 4994 (Sunday-Friday 2pm–11pm), request support by email using this form on The Mix website or use their crisis text messenger service.
  • If you’re under 35 and struggling with suicidal feelings, or concerned about a young person who might be struggling, you can call Papyrus HOPELINEUK on 0800 068 4141 (weekdays 10am-10pm, weekends 2pm-10pm and bank holidays 2pm–10pm), email pat@papyrus-uk.org or text 07786 209 697.
  • If you identify as male, you can call the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) on 0800 58 58 58 (5pm–midnight every day) or use their webchat service.
  • If you’re a student, you can look on the Nightline website to see if your university or college offers a night-time listening service. Nightline phone operators are all students too.
  • If you identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, you can call Switchboard on 0300 330 0630 (10am–10pm every day), email chris@switchboard.lgbt or use their webchat service. Phone operators all identify as LGBT+.
  • For more options, visit the Helplines Partnership website for a directory of UK helplines. Mind’s Infoline can also help you find services that can support you. If you’re outside the UK, the Befrienders Worldwide website has a tool to search by country for emotional support helplines around the world.

If you have been affected by suicide or suicidal feelings and want to talk about it, please feel free contact me for a confidential appointment

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